REOPENING BUSINESSES AFTER COVID-19

As the inevitable pandemic emerged due to the SARS-CoV-s, COVID-19 outbreak, everyone’s lives were instantly changed.  Since the COVID-19 has been identified, public health authorities continue to be vigilant to stop the waves of further transmissions.  While schools and businesses had temporarily closed down, the question of how to manage the risk going forward has been on the everyone’s minds.  It has become a challenge for homeowners and business owners alike to protect their assets when the time comes to safely reopen after reports of new cases of those infected with COVID-19 have diminished.  Once things begin to return to normal, any buildings closed up or shut down and maintained will be safe, functional, and ready for eventual reopening to the general public and staff.  If the facilities are not reopening to the public, it can compromise the integrity of the building and the revenue of the business.

When considering the reopening of buildings, the primary concern is maintaining indoor environmental conditions by controlling the relative humidity. The building’s ventilation, heat, and air conditioning are operationally based on heat load produced by people occupying the space.  Also, this extends to the Electronic Devices that also provide heat, which can also influence the ACs ability to control over humidity levels, which can result in moisture damage by mold development.  The building’s HVAC can significantly reduce the chances of mold growth.  However, suppose the building’s occupancy is well or nonexistent. In that case, the chances of mold development are that much higher, resulting in the building remaining closed until the mold growth is handled.  

The building’s water system is vital and crucial for all building operations to occur.  There are real threats such as Legionnaires Disease or other types of pathogens that can become a severe threat to the general population.  Legionnaire’s disease shares similar symptoms to COVID-19, such as fever, shortness of breath, and a cough.  Over the last 15 years, there’s been an increase of 650% from Legionnaires Disease or other types of bacteria that were left unchecked in the water supply.  If there are any disruptions in the water service throughout the neighborhood or building, it could lead to many cases of Legionnaire’s Disease like years before.  Any water that’s been sitting for a prolonged period within the mains, plumbing lines, and water heaters will lose the effects of chlorine disinfectant resulting in a higher risk of a Legionella colonization.

For this reason, building operators can’t assume that the water supplier uses disinfectants or flushes the lines to get rid of any growth that may have occurred in the plumbing.  All responsibility for taking care of waterborne pathogens has fallen upon the building operators and owners.  An outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease is much higher if the building in question has been closed for more than a week.  It is the operators’ and owners’ responsibility to assess the situation and take preventative measures if there is a need for it.  

Another challenge to prevent Legionnaires Disease is by installing cooling towers when school campuses and buildings had to shut down. If the demand for HVAC systems and maintenance staff availability is scaled back, it can cause the Legionella bacteria to multiply while causing conditions to degrade. The Legionnaires Disease outbreak can be prevented with vigilance, aggressive treatments, and testing. Upon reopening all facilities, it will be essential to clean and disinfect all interior spaces that were in use in addition to mechanical devices and furnishings and after closing each day. Doing these things will significantly remedy the risk of contracting COVID-19. The resources for the cleaning process, such as disinfectants and qualified contractors, will be low during the crisis due to high demand. Making sure you have appropriate and effective disinfectants selected, it will ensure that the building space is ready to be used when the time comes. As time progresses, building operators may want to consider the ongoing usage of cleaning materials and processes indefinitely.

There are many infection control and industrial hygienist professionals that have the expertise to deduce the level of toxicity and efficacy of disinfectant chemicals. They can identify remediation practices that are safe and assess the risk of COVID-19, Legionella, or any other biological hazards that could affect air quality. The AIHA (American Industrial Hygiene Association) has a detailed consulting list of certified by state and specialty professionals. An online listing is also available provided by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene to find certified industrial hygienists. They can deal with Legionnaires’ outbreaks and provide practical remediation efforts. In conclusion, organizations must prepare for the aftermath of COVID-19. It is essential to make your facilities as safe or low risk as possible for eventual reopening as things return to normalcy as we know it.  

In summary, these are the things that need to be considered before reopening any business. If the indoor air quality is compromised, it’s best to address them as early as possible.  We at AQR offer 24/7 emergency services for situations like these.  Our professionals are ready to receive your calls day in and day out. We provide service throughout all of Delaware, Eastern Shore of Maryland, and Southeastern PA (Closest to Delaware border). Hope to hear from you soon!

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